“UAE Military Base Boosts Berbera International Trade Hub and Somaliland-Ethiopia’s Relations and Economic Growth “

10 mins read
 By Mohamed Farah Abdi 
On 12 February 2017, the government of Somaliland accepted the formal application seeking permission from the Somaliland government to open a military base in Berbera. This application followed the 440 million dollar investment – 30-year contract for UAE’s international ports operator, DP World, take a 65% stake in the project and the Somaliland government will own the rest.


The UAE military base in Berbera has attracted the attention of Somaliland’s friendly ally – Ethiopia. This article exposes the truth that the base will be used to secure multimillion dollar investment of DP World, which will run the Berbera port for 30 years, with an automatic 10-year extension if it wishes.

Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, DP World chairman, told: “Investment in this natural deep-water port will attract more shipping lines to East Africa and its modernisation will act as a catalyst for the growth of the country and the region’s economy”. The UAE presence in Berbera will contribute to the economic growth of both Ethiopia and Somaliland as confirmed by Sultan of DP World, including long waited road connecting Berbera port free zone to Ethiopia.

As Dr. Sa’ad Ali Shire, Somaliland’s Foreign Minister confirmed that the military base will just be utilized for interests and geopolitical importance of Somaliland allies. The unconditional brotherly support and diplomatic sustains of Ethiopia since 1988 never erased from the memory of Somaliland citizens. The incumbent president, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamud (Silanyo), and next president, Muse Bihi Abdi; both have never and ever forgotten historic relationship with Ethiopia and they will never accept to use Somaliland shores for militarization purposes against Ethiopia. They have been maintained a strong connection with Ethiopian government; advanced diplomacy and security of both countries, recognized Ethiopia’s continuing and backstopping support to Somaliland.  Somaliland contributes to Ethiopia’s’ GDP by consuming Khaat from Ethiopia by spending large percentage of its foreign currency through this trade. Somaliland reportedly spends $500 million US dollar a year.

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The UAE and Somaliland governments agreed to establish a base with security personnel that will protect Berbera port and shipments in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden; in opposition to piracy and safeguard their investments in Berbera. Improved security of Berbera trade hub will attract international shipping lines to feed Africa through Somaliland-Ethiopian trade way toward African continent.  This will open a window for the Ethio-Somaliland economic and diplomatic relationships which were admired by two countries over decades.

President of Somaliland spoke to the parliament, ”the military base would benefit Somaliland most and help create jobs”.  As António Guterres, UN Secretary General, addressed on Jan 20, 2017, it is essential to address youth unemployment to prevent instability, social conflicts, and violent extremism. The world organizations have been spending millions of dollars a year to create jobs for youth because it has been globally taken employment of youth can significantly reduce the number of youth commit to crimes.  Improved youth employment in Somaliland and Ethiopia will considerably decrease level of crimes and fragility in the east African region.

Blackmailing rumor has been circling around local media in both countries, portraying that the Cairo government stands behind the curtail of the Berbera UAE base. It’s a just rootless gossip generated by anti-development protesters and deceptive politicians.  As the matter of fact, the truth exposes that there is no Egyptian-UAE joint venture in Berbera at all. The people of Somaliland know how the government of Cairo is suffocating Somaliland independence while Somaliland-Ethiopian relations have been blossoming since 1991- Ethiopia is the only key ally of Somaliland globally. Similarly, UAE is a good ally of Somaliland economically as Somali merchants have been ever using Dubai port as their only international trade center.  The decision of engaging UAE to the Berbera port was wisely taken by the incumbent president, Silanyo, and next president, Muse Bihi with the support of Mohamud Hashi Abdi, Minister of Presidential Affairs, and parliament members.

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Minister of Presidential Affairs is one of the most senior politicians compared to the incumbent president Silanyo and next president Muse Bihi. He is equipped with strong experience in Somaliland politics and the region. He was one of the key officials of SNM – he lived in Ethiopia in the 1980s; first mayor of Burao, charismatic parliament member in 1990s, former Minister of Civil Aviation and Air Transport. His remarkable background in politics uplifted his recognition of the importance of Ethiopian-Somaliland relations.

UAE base in Berbera will further enhance collaboration and integration of Somaliland- Ethiopian communities as movements of trade and bilateral opportunities would rise to the peak.  Somaliland will not allow others to harm its key ally – Ethiopia.  Muse Bihi, the next president, is a symbolic figure that cannot accept Egyptians and others to threaten security in the region.

Together, Ethiopia and Somaliland maintained a good relationship to combat terrorism, piracy, and instability in the region.  Kulmiye party has shown to defend its border with Ethiopia to launch any terrorist confrontations towards its ally and the incumbent President Silanyo tried to establish better relations with Ethiopia.

Deterioration of Berbera- Wajaale road has remained a challenge to Ethiopia’s uses of Berbera port for decades. Currently accepted UAE investment of Berbera will pave the way of building Berbera Corridor thereby Ethiopia would swiftly use the trade way for military and civilian shipments without prior control.  The two brotherly countries reached this moment to realize their dreams of benefiting Berbera Corridor, which will be principal trade route for Ethiopia’s imports and exports.

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The flourishing investments in Somaliland will require utilizing Ethiopia’s hydroelectric power – the important and available power lines at the Ethiopian-Somaliland border, and Kulmiye government puts its foremost political agenda to benefit Ethiopians’ electricity.

However, it is obvious that there is animosity against the concrete Ethio-Somaliland relations that has been growing up strongly. It’s an envy escalating propaganda to breakaway Somaliland from Ethiopia. Backed by Mohamud Hashi, Minister of Presidential Affairs, the incumbent president, Silanyo, and next president, Muse Bihi, are committed to advance closer ties with Ethiopia as means of political, trade and investment without a sense of compromise.

In conclusion, Somaliland and Ethiopia should avoid establishing any crack in their historic relationship: practically, it means both governments to understand destructive propaganda pursuing to go back to the past. Ethiopia and Somaliland laid solid foundations of building peace and stability in the region, it’s required them to deepen their security relations by building new strategies to deal with security threats against their common interests and regional stability. To improve the capacity of Somaliland security institutions, Ethiopia should continue their support of building Somaliland’s military and police and to set up cross-border security measures among them. Regarding current UAE base in Berbera, the two countries should set up special task force among them; as its common entity to work together to provide think-tank on their common security threats.  Advancing Somaliland and Ethiopian trade and investment, next president of Somaliland, Muse Bihi, should come up an effective strategy to make sure free and fair uses of Berbera Trade Hub for the Interest of Ethiopia and Africa in general.

The writer, Mohamed Farah Abdi, is based in Hargeisa, Somaliland. He can be reached at mfathegreat@gmail.com 

1 Comment

  1. I read a piece on Somaliland and UAE agreement to build a military base at Berbera titled
    ” UAE Military Base Boosts Berbera International Trade Hub and Somaliland-Ethiopia’s Relations and Economic Growth ”
    By Mohamed Farah Abdi

    For the record, I wrote a short piece on Somaliland Times in the 1990s why Somaliland should be recognized as an independent nation if we follow Eritrea independence mechanism or criteria. Both of them have similar history. The only difference is the Arab Tyrants card of United Somalia a member of Arab League got the upper hand at United Nations.

    We know that Somaliland has not yet been recognized as an independent nation like Eritrea and Somalia which is recovering from tribal war is under the African Union protection as we speak. Somalia will not accept the independence of Somaliland while itself is divided as a “Federal” weak states makes it even more difficult to come with one voice let alone be a military threat.

    Ethiopia which has immersed itself into Somalia militarily since 2006 is doing its best to create Somalia which is weak. The regime in Ethiopia itself is weak from self-inflicted Tribal Federation it has legalized since 1995.

    Tribal Kilils/States like Oromia and Ogaden are calling for “self administration” and many in the Diaspora Egypt backed are calling for declaration of Oromo Republic. Landlocked Ethiopia natural enemies who would like to exploit this division are seen by many Ethiopians as mortal enemies.

    Ethiopia during the battle of Adwa in 1896 faced similar “neighbors” like the one facing now. Italy occupied Eritrea is now Free Eritrea by unfriendly Isaias who has a bold idea for uniting Somalia like the Arab tyrants.

    Somaliland was under British colonialism and the rest of Somalia under Italian colonialism. French Somalialnd or Djibouti under France. Ethiopia was surrounded by European foreign powers to subjugate her. The difference then and now is Ethiopia has King/Emeye Menelik who rally its people to fight foreign aggressors using the port of Djibouti.

    France was jocking to extend its influence beyond tiny Djibouti and Menelik has to be friendly with France to import weapons to fight the foreign aggressors. The current regime is playing similar game with Somaliland at Berbera.

    Tiny Djibouti is now a military station for foreign powers, USA, France, China etc. Any of this country has an influence on what Ethiopia import do defend itself. That means Ethiopia national security is under “Unfriendly”countries. Their interest can change depending the ruling power in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia can be blackmailed easily.

    The situation in Somaliland is not different from Djibouti. The only difference is Djibouti is internationally recognized country. She can do what she wants legally. Somaliland is in difficult position but no one can stop the current military base agreement with UAE.

    Somaliland and the Ethiopian regime has been friendly since 1991. Landlocked Ethiopia can not use the port of Assab because of the 1998-2000 war and it seems unlikely things can change in the near future. That is where the port of Berbera becomes very crucial.

    Until the relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea changed for the benefit of the two people which has more in common than separate them the value of Berbera both in economic and military terms remains important.

    Ethiopia which is now weak divided into Tribal Kilils has to tackle her problem and come out strong like she did 121 years ago. Defeating fascism followed by federation with Eritrea under King Haileselassie that brought peace and regional stability for more than four decades.

    Horn of Africa will not prosper in division and conflict. Outside forces should not be allowed to export religious war into our region like they did in Middle East. Horn of Africa does not need Saudi/UAE and Iran supported conflicts in our land like the one unfolding in Yemen. Horn of Africa should not be Yemen.

    UAE and Saudi Arabia move should always be checked because their Dollar is not clean. The only way to come and check foreign forces is for Ethiopia and Eritrea to use all their resources including port for the benefit of their growing population which will increase dramatically in the coming decades. Ethiopia and Eritrea survival can only be guaranteed by Bold and Visionary leaders who took a valuable lesson from our Disunity following the 1998-2000 Stupid War.

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